Writing role cards

Published on 6th January, 2011 in Teaching Tips by Frances Watkins

I love roleplays, at all levels and for a wide variety of students. They allow learners to be creative, give controlled practice of a specific language area, and act as a springboard for oral fluency. They also require students to use language they might otherwise not use in their daily lives. On a more abstract level, they may even encourage students to empathise with others. I think sometimes we take them for granted!

This week’s tip looks at how to make an effective role card yourself, either to support or exploit a topic further or to give further oral fluency or specific language practice. So, consider the following guidelines in the design process:

•  State clearly what the role is at the top, either as a heading or bolded in the text, to signal the nature of the activity to students.
•  Provide the context, which should be motivating. Add extra details to start students thinking, eg rather than You work in a shop, write You work in the clothes shop in X arcade in town (choose somewhere your students know).
•  Don’t give too much information or the card becomes a reading comprehension task.
•  Include a sentence starter at the end, to get students over the initial hurdle. Include on one card You start … and a possible sentence, eg in a shop roleplay: Is there anything in particular that you are looking for?
•  State the objective, where appropriate, eg You have to choose something to wear; You must decide where to meet and go.
•  Very importantly, include an element of tension, however small, as this can impact on motivation. After all, disagreement is often the basis of discussion in real life, leading to negotiation, or at least humour!

More details on this and other roleplay issues in next week’s tip.